Global warming and climate change took a very long time to be put into the spotlight. And it took even longer to capture public awareness in a way that shows the gravity of the situation. But it finally seems as though people have started taking the climate change talk seriously. From the recent Californian fires which destroyed the lower west coast of the USA we already know how much of an impact climate change is making. Climate change played a major role in shaping the number of fires and the intensity of the flames. California’s climate in recent years has only gotten hotter and drier, creating the perfect environment for a flaming disaster.
We can firsthand see the consequence of this raging climate change. How it affects our life and even animal life. The especially harmful effects of the manufacturing industries in climate change are no secret to us. However, the question to be asked here is what they are doing about it. To understand the answer to this simple question, we first need to have an overview of the climate problem. Also of the role of the industries backed by Big tech played in all this.
The first signs of the problem started in the 18th century when the factories we know today were first introduced. These factories were far more efficient and productive than anything ever before. The earlier versions of these factories produced extremely little waste. The production rate of these early birds cannot be compared to the ones after fossil fuel entered the scene. After the development and implementation of fossil fuels and trains, these industries took off. It enabled manufacturers to develop larger, more efficient factories. But as the output increased, so did the environmental damage caused by industry.
With an increased rate of productivity came the increase in quality of life. Industries tend to generate wealth and improvement for local communities. Improvements in our quality of life and health over the last few centuries dramatically increased our rate of population growth. This became an unending cycle. As the population increased, so did the number of industries to feed the needs of this growing population. With this came even more pollution. We became more and more proficient at managing and exploiting natural resources. The populations kept growing and the industries kept multiplying to where we are today.
Today we live in a society where the consumption of goods has an extremely high value. And this incentive is enough for anyone to ignore public welfare for personal benefit. Our culture has been and still is shaped by the forces of industry. This industry rides on the saddle of innovation and it progresses indefinitely. As long as there are people it will thrive. Now, what kind of a role does Big tech play in all this? Let’s find out.
The role of Big tech:
The tech space is a multi-billion dollar industry and companies compete hard to win over customers. This, however, comes at a cost. Manfred Santen, an electronics expert with Greenpeace, had to say this at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
“With their short-lived devices and unnecessarily fast product cycles, the manufacturers are causing massive environmental damage and catastrophic working conditions,”
What this shows is that the tech industry is at least slightly evil. Even if they do not mean to be. Since the introduction of the first iPhone ten years ago, more than seven billion smartphones have been produced. Most of these have since ended up in the dump. One reason smartphone production is environmentally problematic is that they require precious metals which are processed using harmful chemicals. These chemicals end up in streams, lakes, or local bodies of water most of the time. We also can’t ignore the fumes they release when used. This again contributes to the climate problem.
There is also a massive expenditure of energy for the production of these devices. According to Greenpeace, the Smartphone production industry alone has consumed over 968 terawatt-hours of electricity worldwide. And this is only in the last 10 years. This matches the annual energy supply of India, a country with more than a billion people. Producing this amount of electricity alone has a long-lasting impact on the environment. But what makes them seriously insidious is the product’s life cycle. With a two-year average life cycle, they’re more or less disposable. The problem is that building a new smartphone and mining the resources for it takes a lot of energy. It is equal to 85% to 95% of the device’s total CO2 emissions for two years. This means buying a new phone takes as much energy as recharging and operating a single phone for ten years.
The main culprit:
The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry represented 1% of the carbon footprint in 2007. This has already tripled, on its way to exceed 14% by 2040. That’s half as large as the carbon impact of the entire transportation industry. Smartphones represent a fast-growing segment of ICT and already do so much damage. The main culprits, however, are servers and data centres themselves which are responsible for 45% of ICT emissions. Every google search, or tweet, or Instagram post takes a computer somewhere to calculate it all. These data centres take a lot of energy and even give out a lot of CO2. This is problematic as the number of data centres will only increase with the increase in worldwide devices.
This again increases unendingly, not only because of the manufactured life cycle but also because of the psychology of trend-chasing. Big tech companies like Apple exploit this on a yearly basis. They make similarly redundant products every single year which trend-chasing consumers buy without fail. This is especially true with our generation where public perception of one’s image is paramount.
Now that we have a basic overview of the situation, let us revisit my previous question. What are they doing about it?
What they can do:
The source of all this mess is a monetary incentive, which Big tech in cashing in on without any guilt. Hence, it stands to perfect reason that it should be them cleaning this mess up. So, are they doing anything about it? Well, to some extent. Google, Facebook, and Apple have all pledged to become 100% renewable in their own operations. Google is the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy. It plans to buy enough wind and solar energy to offset all the electricity used by its operations.
Apple even unveiled their plan to become carbon neutral across its operations by 2030. This includes their entire business, manufacturing supply chain, and product life cycle. The company is already carbon neutral today for its global corporate operations. This new pledge means that every product of theirs after 2030 will have net-zero climate impact.
Last year we even saw a huge surge in renewable energy sales which hit record levels. This was driven by global tech giants’ appetite for sustainable energy as the race to become the cleanest is afoot. The amount of clean energy from renewable energy developers bought by companies has tripled in the past two years. This creates a more stable market for renewable energy as there is immense demand from these companies. This is all in a bid to create and nurture their environmentally positive image. Tech companies have long realized that their unsustainable methods would offset the trends they try to create. Now with climate change in the limelight, consumers would find it hard to support a company that deals in evil and profits on sin.
What we can do:
Now all the blame can’t be thrown on a single entity. Big tech has wronged, yes, but we are the primary reason for their sins. We are the consumers that they try and compete so hard to attain. In the end, monetary incentive begins with us, the people. But we, as the people, have more power than we can imagine. We only need to know how to harness it. Firstly, it is very important to educate ourselves. That is how any amount of change can begin. With proper knowledge of the problem, you are trying to change.
Secondly, we can stick to one device. Quite literally. Sticking to a single phone for more than their 2-year life-cycle itself makes such a big change. If you used a phone for even 3 years, it makes a difference. It makes a big impact on your own carbon footprint. No one has to mine the rare materials for a phone you already own, hence, the load is reduced.
Thirdly, we can be aware. Like how we currently are, our awareness has power. The only reason Big tech is making changes to its unsustainable methods is because of our awareness. If more and more people are aware and environmentally conscious it will change more companies for the better. For a big corporation, public perception is extremely important. And if we want them to make a difference, we can only do so by being aware. This makes it easy to sway public perception if the populace is educated and aware of the company’s faults.
If we can follow through on these three things and have some accountability, we can change the world for the better. Being more careful about our purchases and using them for even slightly longer, makes all the difference. It only takes the fall of a single domino for the rest to fall into place on their own. A takeaway from this entire discussion is to just be aware and conscious. Green Travels!
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